"Right." Arthur smiled brightly at his new trainee. "We've received reports of odd things happening in Winchelsea, down on the south coast, so it's time for your first experience of patrol work. Do you have your Muggle outfit handy?"
"Yeah." Pansy glanced at her bag.
"Good." Arthur reached into a drawer and brought out his own clothes, a pair of jeans and an old jumper that he'd found in a second-hand shop. Having run the outfit past Harry, he felt pretty confident that it looked authentic.
He smiled at Pansy again. "Excellent. Well, if you'd like to use the changing room first." He indicated the little cubicle at the end of the room, which the members of the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts office used as a cloakroom.
Pansy picked up her bag and slouched toward the cubicle. Arthur watched her with a frown. He was already regretting taking her on, but he'd been rushed off his feet since returning to work and had been desperate for help. Officially he was now Assistant Manager of the entire Magical Law Enforcement Department; unofficially he had moved back to the MMA office, where there was a huge backlog and a major staffing problem. Nine months of Muggle-baiting while Voldemort's people were in charge of the country had apparently resulted in the misuse of a lot of Muggle artefacts.
As for Pansy, she hadn't exactly charmed him during her interview, but Arthur was conscious that being charming was not a requirement in today's modern Ministry of Magic. Besides, she had looked so miserable, sitting opposite him with her smart robes and carefully made-up face. He'd witnessed her attempt to hand over Harry on the eve of Voldemort's fall, and guessed that she was now dealing with its consequences. Perhaps, he'd thought, he could teach her something about why no one in that room had taken up her suggestion of giving Harry up - although he suspected that plenty had thought about it. And if he couldn't do that, maybe he could simply do her a favour by giving her some work experience.
Unfortunately, so far she seemed to have little interest in the work, and her attitude was passive, if not exactly uncooperative. Arthur wasn't sure why she'd applied to a Muggle-related office if she wasn't interested in Muggles, but if she did have an interest in them he'd seen little evidence of it.
When Pansy exited the changing room, she was wearing surprisingly sensible clothes: a long, flared skirt and plain white t-shirt, with what looked like a cardigan in the crook of her arm. Arthur opened his mouth to voice his approval, but shut it again at her glare.
He changed into his own outfit swiftly and smoothed down his hair, ruing as he did so the spreading bald patch on the crown of his head. But Molly had kissed him there that morning, just before they had clung together as they found themselves doing so often these days, wordlessly taking and giving comfort. Losing his looks, which had never been very special, was nothing compared to losing his son.
When he walked back into the office, he looked - he hoped - every inch the responsible manager, ready to show a trainee the ropes. "Time to go," he said. "I think we'll arrive by train."
"Yes, I think so." He mustered a smile. "It's never a good idea to Apparate directly into Muggle space. Before you know it, someone's raised the alarm, and then there are Obliviators all over the shop, blasting people left, right and centre."
"They're just Muggles," she muttered, but she followed him obediently, and he pretended he hadn't heard.
In the end, they Apparated to Ashford, because Arthur did not feel up to negotiating St Pancras, and Pansy clearly knew nothing about Muggle public transport. When they stepped from the Ministry-approved Apparition point - the darkest corners of a dingy set of toilets - they were at the wrong end of the station, and when they finally found the ticket booths, the attendant refused to accept the fifty pound note that Arthur proffered.
"Don't see many o' them, y'see," he explained, while Arthur rooted hurriedly in his pockets for something smaller. "Could be forged. Unless you come over from the continent, but you sound pretty English to me."
"Yes, we're English." With relief, Arthur pulled out a purplish note featuring a large '£20', and was handed two tickets as reward. Trying to understand everything in the Muggle world was exhausting. He sometimes thought that the only way to really know right from wrong was to live there permanently.
The train to Winchelsea rattled along, the landscape opening up gradually as they left the town behind. Arthur sat back, a measure of peace settling around him as they moved deeper into the countryside.
"Do you know Winchelsea?" he asked Pansy. Soon into the journey, she had produced a wizplayer - the latest innovation, a pair of sunglasses charmed to play music that only the wearer could hear - and retired behind the dark glasses. Now she made a meal of pulling off the device and blinking at him blankly. He repeated his question.
"No." The way her mouth twisted as she glanced through the window implied that she didn't want to know Winchelsea, either.
"You don't think it's pretty out here?"
She shrugged. "It just looks very... provincial."
He laughed with effort. "Pansy, I may not move in the same circles as your family, but I know perfectly well you were brought up in the countryside."
"Yeah." Another shrug. "I don't have to like it, though. The people there are mostly Muggles."
"Yes," Arthur said through gritted teeth, "we have quite a lot of Muggles in our village, too. Most of them are very nice." He forced himself to take a deep breath. "Perhaps you never gave them a chance."
"My family's never bothered with them." Her tone, like her expression, was difficult to read.
They're people, just like us. They're as resourceful as wizards are, just in different ways. Wizards have been maltreating Muggles for centuries; don't you think it's time we took a look at our own behaviour before judging theirs? All these thoughts rolled through Arthur's mind, but he was overcome with weariness at the thought of saying them. He looked out of the window again, drawing strength from the patchwork of soft greens and yellows. After a decent interval, Pansy replaced her wizplayer and sat back.
Arthur led the way up the main street of Winchelsea, stopping outside a small terraced house, exactly like the ones on either side of it, if a little dingier. "This is the address," he said and slipped his notebook into his pocket. "Pansy," he added, "we're at work now. Could you please take off those glasses?" He waited for her to obey. "You remember the procedure for interacting with Muggles? No wands unless absolutely necessary."
She nodded, her lips set, and he rang the doorbell.
The door was opened by a harassed-looking young woman, not much older than Ginny and nearly as pretty. Arthur smiled at her.
"We've come about the problem you were having."
"Oh, thank god." The girl pulled the door wide, exposing a dark, narrow hall. "He's up this way." She hurried ahead of them up a twisting staircase.
"He?" Arthur asked. When they reached the landing, he put a hand on her arm. "I'm afraid you might have misunderstood. We fix, er, things. Not people."
"You find him, you'll find the things," the girl said and turned away. After a glance to check that Pansy was keeping up, Arthur followed the girl through a doorway.
The room was in chaos. Clocks squawked and chimed from every wall, a teapot snapped at him from a nearby dresser, loud voices issued from a contraption in the corner, and a dozen other artefacts danced and clapped and yelled. It was like being back in a first-year Charms class at Hogwarts.
Only after he'd taken all of this in did Arthur realise that there was a figure on the bed - a human figure, huddled under blankets despite the summer warmth.
"Thank you," he said quickly to the girl. He shook his head urgently at Pansy, who was already reaching for her wand despite what he'd said outside. They would have to go through the procedure again when they got back to the office. He turned back to the girl. "If you'd like to wait outside, we'll have this sorted in two ticks."
"Oh, no," she said and marched to the bed, dropping a hand onto the blankets covering whoever was in there. "I'm not leaving my dad in here alone."
"Ms..." Arthur tried to picture the page in his notebook that contained her name. Usually he was good with the personal touch, but he'd been so tired lately, his mind filled with images of Fred which seemed to arrest him at every turn. "Ms Fleetwood, I must warn you that I can't answer for the consequences if you stay in this room."
"Will I die?" She fixed him with a steady gaze, and again he was reminded of Ginny. "Will someone kill me?" Her fingers clenched on the blankets; the person underneath them still hadn't moved.
"No," he said, "I can promise you that."
"Then I'm staying." She sat beside the figure on the bed.
Arthur nodded unhappily. He couldn't stop her, but it would mean a memory charm, and he'd had enough of those to last him a lifetime. He nodded at Pansy, who was watching the girl with a quizzical expression. "Let's sort this out," he said.
She turned away from him, took out her wand and silenced once of the clocks with a quick "Finite incantatem." Arthur watched her for a moment, but she seemed reasonably competent, so he began working his way along the opposite side of the room.
It took a while. Every time he thought he had cleared out a corner, he would hear a distant ping or clink or bark, and open a drawer to find something else. Even the books bit or snapped or - occasionally - farted in a way that reminded him painfully of Fred and George's teenage pranks.
Finally, Arthur and Pansy met by the window on the far side of the room, subdued one howling curtain each, and turned to face one another.
"Good work," said Arthur.
Pansy nodded. She was flushed, and while she could in no way be described as looking friendly, her sulky expression had vanished. "What do we do about...?" She jerked her head toward the bed.
The girl was still sitting there, watching them with wide eyes. "So it's real," she said. "You're real." She glanced down at the figure in the bed, whose eyes were fluttering open.
"Yes," Arthur said wearily. In a few moments, he and Pansy would be on their way back to the office, and the Obliviators would move in to perform damage control. It didn't really matter what he told her now.
He jumped and stared at the girl, who surely did not know his first name. But that hadn't been her voice, and she was looking down at the person in the bed. "Dad? Oh, Dad, how are you feeling?"
"Quite well, thank you." The voice was reedy and cracked, but it managed a hint of tartness. A pair of faded blue eyes fixed upon Arthur. "Arthur. It is you, isn't it?"
"My name is..." began Arthur, and then the room seemed to shift around him. He was seventeen years old, eating fish and chips by the beach, and sitting beside him was a boy his own age, a Muggle, whose name was...
"Walter Fleetwood," he said.
"Arthur," the man in the bed repeated. "I knew you were real. They always said you were a dream, but I knew you weren't."
Arthur knelt by the bed. "Walter, how did this happen? Who put all these things in here? Were you attacked?"
The man shook his head, smiling. "It was me. I collect them - odd things, I mean. I thought, if they existed, you must do, too." He looked around at the smashed teacups, broken books and other wreckage in the room. "They always did set each other off. I suppose it got a little out of hand, and then Della came to see me and she... panicked."
"Dad!" his daughter protested. "You looked like you were being eaten alive in here! I had to do something. The operator said I was right to dial 999."
Arthur glanced around. Pansy was watching the scene with a puzzled frown. "You're not supposed to remember me," he said to Walter.
"I guessed that," Walter said, and coughed. He looked much older than Arthur hoped that he himself appeared, but his chuckle when it came was as infectious as it had been thirty years earlier. "It wasn't easy, but I knew you were important, somehow."
Arthur thought with shame of how hard he had tried to forget Walter, during those horrible days after the attack. It's for his own good, they had told him. If you leave him alone, so will others. Others, like the people who had hurt him for fraternising with a pureblood wizard - because of Arthur. The Obliviators, his parents, even Albus Dumbledore had told him that it was for the best, so Arthur had tried to forget. He'd gone back to school, become a prefect and tried to teach others to look on Muggles as people, not prey.
When he'd come across the broken record player, so like the one Walter had played every evening of that final summer, he had hidden it in the shed and barely felt guilty at all. It was a memento - what was wrong with that? The record player had been followed by a toaster, a kettle that was missing its lead, a miniwave oven and a variety of plugs. The collection had grown and grown until he'd almost forgotten its origins - except when he looked at that record player and remembered his evenings with Walter, jumping around to Muggle music and eating fish and chips. It was the one artefact that he could never bring himself to enchant.
He wanted to ask how Walter had changed from that laughing boy who had introduced him to beer and Bob Dylan into the tired old man in the bed, but he could not think of a way to phrase the question.
Instead, he bent close and found Walter's hand under the blanket. "It's good to see you again," he murmured. "Do you know, I've got a collection, too - a bit like yours, except I've enchanted all the things myself, so they don't work very well. I've got cameras and a toaster, and a kettle, and plugs for every one of them. I've even got a record player that looks just like the one you used to play, because it reminded me of you."
Mischief gleamed in Walter's eyes, and he smiled. "There must be some kind of way out of here," he sang under his breath. "Said the joker to the thief."
"There's too much confusion," Arthur sang, "I can't... doo da da dah." He grinned at Walter self-consciously. "I've forgotten the words."
"This is all very touching," said Pansy, "but shouldn't we be leaving soon?" She was looking at Arthur urgently; with a thud of guilt, he remembered why they were here.
"I - yes, we ought to be going. Walter, it was so wonderful to see you." He clasped Walter's thin hand tightly.
"You'll come again, though?" the man asked. "For old times' sake?"
Arthur wished that he could lie, but he would not. Not again; not to Walter. "I don't think I can," he said gently. Would the Obliviators modify his mind again? They hadn't done a great job last time, apparently, and nobody had paid any attention. Perhaps they'd satisfy themselves with the girl, Della. "I'm sorry."
Walter did not look surprised. "Ah, well," he sighed. "Back to the daydreams. But I'll have this memory to go on, now."
"Yes." Arthur hoped that this was true. Suddenly he could bear it no longer, being in this room, which the Obliviators would soon enter in order to cover up everything that had happened. "Come on, Pansy," he said brusquely, and pulled his hand from Walter's. As an afterthought, he leaned over and whispered in Walter's ear: "Look for the record player."
Then he hurried from the room before he could betray himself further.
Della followed them down the stairs. "So, you two know each other?" she asked when they reached the ground floor. "You're really Arthur?"
Arthur nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Walter had looked so tired and old, lying there in that bed. What had happened to him - how had he ended up in that room, surrounded by his collection of enchanted gadgets?
"Listen," Della said, "I know you can't tell me much or something unspecified but terrible will happen, but could you at least tell me a little?" She glanced upward and lowered her voice. "Dad's not been well for a while, and you might be able to explain a few things about him."
"Oh," Arthur said wearily, "I might as well tell you everything."
"We were friends," Arthur said when they were seated around the kitchen table, and Della was pouring tea for herself and Arthur and coffee for Pansy. Pansy's mouth twisted when she saw the spoonful of instant coffee, but she accepted the mug gracefully enough. "My family spent a few weeks every summer at Winchelsea Beach, just down the road from here. Your father lived there - his parents ran a fish and chip shop. Well, of course, you'd know that."
Della nodded. "Granddad kept it until he retired."
"We became close friends," Arthur continued. His mind was filling with images of a sandy beach at low tide, of impossibly warm days, of evenings playing music and eating fishcakes. "He didn't know I was - different. He just thought I went to boarding school, which I did, except it wasn't the kind of school he imagined." He smiled at Della. "Your grandparents were wonderful - let us do our own thing all day and most of the night, but there was always food ready whenever two hungry boys needed it." He hesitated, then took a deep breath. "Unfortunately, certain... acquaintances of my parents didn't like me being friendly with a Muggle boy - with someone who wasn't a wizard, I mean."
Della's eyes widened at the word 'wizard', but she nodded.
"It was in the days when Muggle-baiting was frowned upon but not exactly rare," Arthur continued. "What you saw in that room upstairs is a similar thing - just in a milder form. Keys that disappear, teapots that bite. Curtains that scream." He glanced around; Della's expression was unreadable. Pansy's face was set; she looked as if she suspected what was coming. "You get the idea."
"A milder form," Della repeated. "So what they did to my dad..."
"They hurt him," Arthur said. He wasn't going to lie; enough damage had been done to this family by wizards. "I... found him. I Healed him, as well as I could, and my father - he was a mediwizard - did the rest."
Della bit her lip. "He's never mentioned that. He always used to talk about you - it was a bit of a family joke, like you were his invisible friend. But he never mentioned - being hurt." There was a question in her tone.
"He almost certainly doesn't remember it," Arthur said heavily. "His memory was modified so that he would forget-"
"Yes." Arthur looked at Pansy, but she had her mug up to her face, concealing her expression. "When an incident of this nature occurs, the person's mind is modified so that... so they can't betray the fact that wizards exist."
Della was silent for a long time, staring into her mug. "Dad's always been absent-minded and a little odd," she said eventually. "He was a bit of a laughing stock in the village, even before he started collecting all those weird things. Could that be a... sort of side-effect?"
"It's possible," Arthur admitted.
"But sometimes it's considered kindest for the person to forget," Pansy put in. There was a questioning note in her voice. "Right? I mean, if they beat him up, if he was hurt..."
"By wizards," said Della levelly.
Pansy looked down. "Some wizards... have different opinions about Muggles," she muttered. "They think they don't really matter."
"Yeah?" said Della. "What do you think?"
"I... don't know," mumbled Pansy.
"A minority of wizards think like that," Arthur said firmly. "Most believe they should be treated exactly the same."
Della rolled her eyes. "Jesus, this is sounding like the civil rights movement in America in the sixties. What century do you guys live in?"
"I've noticed, in my dealings with Muggles," Arthur said carefully, "that in some ways your society is more advanced than ours."
Pansy's head came up at that, but she said nothing.
"It certainly seems that way," Della said. She covered her face with her hands for a moment, then sat back. "God. I... I don't know. My dad's had a hard life, you know? I came back home - I've been abroad for a while - and he seems worse than ever, like he really is losing his mind. He's too young for that! And what if it's all because of what you... you wizards did to his mind?"
"I'm so sorry," said Arthur. "I... perhaps I shouldn't have told you."
She shook her head violently. "No, you bloody should have. I just... it'll take some time to sink in."
He nodded. "I wish I could do more, or say more. I'm sorry."
"Yeah, so you keep saying." She picked up the mugs and carried them over to the sink. "If you don't mind, I'd like to be alone now. Thanks for sorting out all that stuff upstairs."
As Arthur led Pansy back toward the train station, two men in identical dark suits emerged from an alley, hurrying in the direction of the Fleetwood house. Arthur looked away bleakly.
Once on the train, Pansy took out her wizplayer again but hesitated, gazing at it.
"So, the Obliviators are going to wipe her memory of us?" she asked eventually. "Like they did her father's?"
"I imagine so." Arthur rubbed his forehead. He really was very tired.
"Doesn't seem very fair," Pansy mumbled.
"No," Arthur said quietly. "It's not." He thought of Walter, holding onto his belief in Arthur for all those years, while others mocked him for it, and of Walter, happy and confident at seventeen, before the Death Eaters had got to him.
Pansy lowered her voice. "I mean, she seemed pretty nice and intelligent for a Muggle, and..." She frowned. "I don't know, it just seems a bit dodgy for somebody to mess with her mind like that. I've seen memory charms done. They're hardly ever the best way of dealing with a situation." She froze guiltily. "Um, it was in the war and it wasn't anybody who isn't already in custody, and youcan'ttellanyone."
Arthur shook his head. He could definitely feel a headache coming on; he knew he should investigate Pansy's statement further, but he simply didn't have the energy at the moment. "Pansy, why did you apply for this job?"
She stared at him as if weighing up what to say. "Because you're a Weasley, and everyone knows you're in with the right people," she said eventually. "I needed that. My - my family needs it. And... because I wanted to understand."
"Why you all care so much." Her voice was muffled. "About Muggles, and things. I mean, we just fought a war over this, and it always seemed so obvious to me that my parents' side was right - but then last year I saw the Gryffindors and even the Hufflepuffs putting their lives on the line because of Muggles, and I know a few Muggleborns, I know they can be nearly as good at magic, but..." She ran down. "I just don't know."
"Well, do you understand now,?" he asked gently.
She shrugged and took refuge behind her wizplayer.
Next morning before work, Arthur rooted out the record player. It was missing its needle, but that was easily fixed with a couple of charms, as was the lack of an electricity supply. When he had it playing to his satisfaction, he took it along to the post office - the Muggle post office - and sent it off with a note.
Please have this in memory of our friendship, which was very real to me.
With best wishes from your old friend,
At the office, Pansy was already at her desk, her head bent over a large book, from which she was taking notes.
"You look busy," Arthur said as he settled into his chair.
She looked up vaguely. "I am."
Arthur waited, but she merely looked down at her scroll again. "As your manager," he hinted, "I'm supposed to know what you're working on."
"I'm researching the Statute of Wizarding Secrecy and how it's implemented in all the different countries," she said with forced casualness. "Did you know memory charms are illegal in Sweden, except by special dispensation?"
"No," Arthur said, his interest piqued.
"Yeah!" She flipped over a page. "And they're thinking of introducing similar laws in quite a few other countries - Denmark, Holland, Russia..."
"How do they deal with the secrecy problem, then?" Arthur asked despite himself.
Pansy frowned. "I haven't figured that out yet. It's not really explained in here." She looked up at him. "But it means there are other ways."
"Yes," Arthur said with a small smile, "I'm sure there are."
"I'm not saying our way's wrong, mind," Pansy said. "I just... wanted to know what other places do."
Arthur nodded. "Well, let me know what you find out."
"Mmm," Pansy murmured. She looked at him suddenly, her lips pursed. "I don't suppose...could we go and see those people again? Your friend, and Della?"
"I don't think that would be a good idea," he said, thinking guiltily of the parcel he had just sent off. "Why?"
She shrugged. "I just... she seemed quite nice, for a Muggle, and... we could check that the memory charm worked. I mean..." She floundered. "Well, if it worked then it's all fine, isn't it? We don't need to feel bad." He could almost see her changing her mind from one second to the next. Was it good or was it bad, what had been done? He knew what he thought, but she needed to come to her own conclusion.
Arthur thought hard. Walter would receive his parcel tomorrow or the day after that. They could drop round, perhaps even using the record player as a pretext for their visit - it would fall under his remit if reported, after all. But then the Obliviators would return again, unless he found a way to conceal his presence from them. They might pull it off, possibly. On the other hand, they might just make things much worse for Walter and Della.
"I don't think we can visit," he said reluctantly. "Or - not yet." Pansy's face fell into its familiar scowl. "But Pansy," he added, "I meant what I said about telling me what you find out. I'll make it an official project, if you like." Yes, he thought, he had the authority to do that now.
"You'd trust me with that?" Pansy asked. Her hands were clenched on the desk.
He knew what she couldn't say. She was a Pureblood; well, so was he, but her family had fought on the wrong side in a war that wasn't long over. Did he trust her?
"Yes," he said, "I think so."
Pansy gave him an almost-smile before turning back to her book.
Arthur sat down and pulled out his own paperwork, the tune that Walter had sung running through his mind. Perhaps he could find the record next. Perhaps George would know of it; his friend, Lee, was into Muggle music.
Perhaps there was hope for them all.
"No reason to get excited,"
The thief, he kindly spoke
"There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we've been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."
Additional notes: This story was originally written for miramira as part of the springtime_gen fic exchange on LiveJournal. Thank you to snorkackcatcher, miss_daizy and kellychambliss for beta-reading and making excellent suggestions. Lyrics quoted are from "All Along the Watchtower" by Bob Dylan, which was released in 1967 - around which time Arthur would have been in his late teens. The title also comes from this song.